Helping a Loved One with Migraines

Watching a loved one struggle with a migraine or debilitating headache can leave you feeling helpless. While you might not be able to wave a magic wand to take the pain away, you can comfort and support them in many important ways.

Understanding What’s Happening to the Headache Sufferer

The severe pain of a migraine differs from a tension or sinus headache in many ways. It’s typically incapacitating and distracting, causing a day-stopping interruption in all activities.

Most people with migraines feel intense, throbbing pain on one side of the head. Migraines are often associated with nausea or vomiting and a sensitivity to bright lights and sounds. The pain is of long duration, often lasting from half a day to three days. The day after the headache, people are often tired and may still have some nausea or sensitivity to light and noise.

How to Comfort Your Loved One During a Debilitating Headache

Being compassionate and attentive to a migraine sufferer’s pain while ensuring they are as physically comfortable as possible, can help you to comfort them during their pain. Use these tips to support your loved one during a headache:

  • Settle them in a cool, dark room. A migraine often causes increased sensitivity to light. Cover windows with blinds and blackout curtains. Have ice packs on hand for cooling their forehead and neck.
  • Limit movement. Create a comfortable bed or area for them to lie still as movement can increase the throbbing of a migraine. Place soft pillows with clean linens under the head.
  • Keep the house quiet. Noise can also increase headache pain. Be sure children, pets, and other family members are aware that a loved one is feeling unwell. Keep noise levels from TVs, radios, and voices minimized.
  • Prepare for nausea and vomiting. Limit cooking and any other activities that could cause odors to trigger nausea. Be sure there’s a basin or lined trash can within reach in case of vomiting, and clean it immediately after use.
  • Monitor the meds. Your loved one might need your help with proper dosing of over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medications.
  • Keep them hydrated. Plain water can often help ease the pain since dehydration triggers migraines for many people.

Make Headache Management a Team Effort

Ongoing emotional support for your migraine sufferer can take many forms. Be sensitive to respecting their personal boundaries while trying the following lifestyle strategies.

Anticipate triggers. Help your loved one determine and track the factors that commonly cause migraines. A headache diary can be very helpful in discovering personalized triggers so they can be proactively avoided or planned for. Common examples include:

  • Certain foods or drinks, especially alcohol
  • Hormonal changes (menstrual headaches) 
  • Dehydration
  • Stress
  • Lack of sleep or an irregular sleep schedule

Manage stress together. Find some fun stress-reduction techniques you can do together. Consider taking a yoga class after work or meditating together in the morning.

Maintain a regular sleep schedule. Research has shown that changes or disruption in circadian rhythms can cause migraines. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, including weekends, to maintain a consistent sleep-wake cycle. Get a dose of sunshine every morning and avoid the blue screens on your digital devices for at least one hour before bed.

If you or a loved one is having headaches that interfere substantially with your work or daily activities, it might be time to see a headache specialist. This is a doctor — sometimes a neurologist — who has focused their professional training specifically on the treatment of headaches and can help diagnose patients with unusual or complicated headache symptoms.

For more information on The Will Erwin Headache Research Center click here.

To donate to finding a cure for migraines and cluster headaches click here.